Starting university: a guide for students

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Self-care: five ways to look after your mental health and wellbeing

University can be a busy, noisy and, at times, overwhelming experience. It’s all too easy to get pulled in a hundred different directions and not take time for yourself.

Yet self-care is essential to making the most of your time at university. Practising these five aspects of self-care will stand you in good stead not just for uni, but also for later life.

  • Eat well - Our brains need different amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Balance and versatility in your diet is key. Try and cook meals using simple, healthy ingredients as much as possible, keeping takeaways to a minimum. Your body (and your bank balance!) will thank you later.

  • Stay hydrated - Water makes up nearly two-thirds of your body. You can’t function properly without it. Yet when we are busy, remembering to stay hydrated can be hard. Wherever possible, drink water frequently throughout the day: it doesn’t have any calories, it’s great for meeting your body’s needs and, best of all, it’s free!

  • Exercise - Daily physical exercise is essential to all-round wellbeing. Whether it’s a long walk, run, bike ride, swimming or playing a team sport, find what fits you and make time to look after your body as well as your mind. Exercising outdoors is particularly beneficial.

  • Sleep well - Sleep often suffers when we are stressed, anxious or depressed. Yet it’s the one thing we all need to be able to cope with life. Create a positive sleep routine by avoiding stimulants such as caffeine in the evening, taking daily exercise and creating some intentional wind-down time before going to bed - ideally, without screens.

  • Social contact - Spending time with others, ideally in person but also virtually, is a big factor in beating stress. Look to create strong nurturing relationships and avoid withdrawing from social contact if times are getting difficult for you. Connecting with animals or nature is also really helpful for some people.

Looking after these areas will help you manage life when things are difficult; a lack of balance may lead to you struggling. There will be plenty of support available to you at university, so get to know different groups of people from your course, accommodation or any clubs and societies you join to benefit from a range of different perspectives.

In general, students tend to fall into one of two categories:

Optimist or worrier diagram

The Optimist

You may feel that self-care isn’t a priority for you; it’s for people who can’t look after themselves.

The truth is that all of us need to learn to practice self-care. Doing so will help you stay stable and deal with issues if they arise.

Taking responsibility for yourself is part of growing up and becoming independent.

Woman looking at a man in wheelchair doing arm weights

The Worrier

You may be concerned about how you’ll look after yourself - after all, you’ve always had someone to make sure you are eating ok before. You may also struggle with sleep already and know it will be worse when sharing a house with strangers.

Yet developing and planning a self-care routine is within your grasp. Follow the five steps above and take advantage of the many online resources available. By starting to look after yourself, you will develop a sense of achievement which will improve your self-esteem.

Sleeping in a new place can be really difficult. A lack of sleep has been proven to affect the ability to cope with stressful situations. Try to develop a good sleep routine that works for you; this could include wearing earplugs or listening to calming music/audiobooks at bedtime if you find yourself in a noisy environment.

Girl asleep

Resources

Resource

Starting University

A resource for young people about to start university

View resource
Resource

Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

View resource
Resource

Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

View resource

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